NAME Blazhka Dimitrova AGE 30 HOME Sofia, Bulgaria CAUSE Championing a zero-waste lifestyle
Blazhka Dimitrova , also known as the owner of the first zero-waste restaurant in Bulgaria, Blagichka, is a former high school teacher who has established herself as a leading expert in zero waste management in Bulgaria and is herself a successful entrepreneur.
She lives in Sofia Bulgaria, from where she runs her business. She has written a book on the zero waste lifestyle “How to live a zero-waste life” and devotes most of her time to training individuals and institutions to achieve zero waste standards. Her efforts led to her being listed in the Forbes 30 under 30, and in 2020 she received the Youth Award from the President of WWF International for her efforts to inspire change and attitudes towards nature. Dimitrova is also an alum the Professional Fellows Program (PFP) sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’.
If you feel with your body that something is wrong, then just do not do it.
Besides managing her restaurants, Dimitrova also dedicates her time to educating others about a waste-free life. She is co-founder of Zero Waste Bulgaria, a group that develops teaching materials for schools and advises local businesses on how to reduce their impact. She also lobbies for legislative changes in her country Bulgaria.
We spoke to Blazhka about her journey from high school teacher to Bulgaria’s most popular zero waste campaigner: the challenges of starting her first business, working towards her goals with ups and downs, keeping her motivated in trying to make a breakthrough in male dominated world, overcoming defeats, how zero waste became part of her life – and much, much, much more! We have received many questions about women in the world of entrepreneurship and we will try to answer as many as possible.
What was the turning point when you realized that it was time to make a change in your life?
Five years ago, I started teaching entrepreneurship at high school and learned a lot about myself by working with children. It was a hard but rewarding job where I learned to communicate with people on a deeper level. For my efforts, I even received a reward for being the best teacher in Bulgaria. That was my turning point when I realized that I can achieve anything. Later, the children even motivated me to start my own business. In 2015 I opened my first kitchen. It was a catering service where children with disabilities could cook. People liked the fact that the children cooked for them.
When did you know that it was time to focus on zero waste management?
In 2016 I realized how much waste we produce in the kitchen. In that time, I had already started to lead a zero waste life at home. That was the moment when I decided to make my business the first kitchen with zero waste management.
I worked for two years to create a zero-waste household kitchen by shying away from disposable plastic, recycling what I could, and composting leftover food.
How has this change affected your company?
In 2018 I opened my first restaurant in Bulgaria. That year I also won a place in the accelerator at Rinker’s Challenge Bulgaria and received 20,000 €. And by 2020 I had transformed my catering company into Blagichka-Zero Waste, the first waste-free restaurant in Bulgaria.
You are also an innovator. You have not given up on the idea of a waste-free kitchen?
No, I also realized that there is a big problem with plastic waste in the world. I looked for an alternative to disposable plastic and started my own project with edible, biodegradable plates. The idea came from the crackers I served with the beer in my restaurant. I thought it would be a great idea if plates and later even cutlery could be made from them. Even at the time when the ban on plastic in the EU came into force. The main idea was that the product should be made for consumption and not thrown in the trash. The idea of the plate is about recycling.
How did you know that the time was ripe for a new waste-free product?
Because regulations were beginning to support this solution. Alternatives that have come on the market today come very late. We should have done this 30 years ago. I am trying to be more optimistic about this problem. The solutions are great, but they are not a solution for future generations. Climate change is here. The problem is very big. It’s not about the individuals, it’s about the companies. Money is still too big a motivator for big companies. But I keep going because I see that the way communities think is changing.
What was your point of innovation at the time when you invented an edible plate?
The refinement of the recipe to make the plate last longer. Longer shelf life. To increase the shelf life. And finally make it gluten-free.
When did the people perceive you as a changemaker?
I was probably the first person to speak publicly about zero waste a year and a half ago, in January 2018. When people started to recognize and trust me, things changed dramatically. I now play a role in Bulgarian society. I have managed to build myself as an expert. When people or companies have a problem with waste management, they come to me. I hold daily lectures and training sessions in schools and companies. That makes me a changemaker here.
What makes you the right person for the job?
It’s about how you think and how you live your life. The zero-waste philosophy is about more than minimizing our ecological footprint, it’s a worldview. There is no such thing as waste, every waste is a resource! I raised this issue with the public, investors, started talking about the problem and then it went on. Then I founded an NGO, Zero-Waste Bulgaria.
Do you run your business on your own?
Since I received an investment from Rinker’s Challenge, I can rely on an advisory board with 3 additional members from Bulgaria and Germany. Furthermore, the biggest success, one of the biggest in my business career, is the fact that I have a team I can rely on completely.
Which actions or personal characteristics have helped you to succeed?
I am good at telling stories. I can tell people about my life and I can explain what is going on – that works. I believe that storytelling has brought me success, that this is one reason why I am so popular. Since I started my zero waste business and even before that as a teacher, I do interviews for TV. Later in 2019 the publisher invited me to write a book. The book entitled “How to live a waste-free life” was published at the end of 2019.
What shaped you as a successful entrepreneur when you tried to break into a male-dominated world?
A professor at the military academy where I studied treated women badly. And as a person who likes to speak freely, they discouraged me if I was open and talked a lot. They even told me that I should not even be that kind of person if I wanted to make it in the military. I felt pain when I tried to follow the advice of my superior regarding the military academy. In the end, I decided that this was not the right career path for me.
What do you think about the role of your significant others on your way to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
The basis of my success is the support of my social circle – family and friends. I have to share it with people. If I felt that I did not have this support, I did not feel successful and I did not feel happy. It is important that your significant others, know what you do and what your goals are – this way they can really support you.
What was the failure in your personal life?
My big failure was listening to others when they told me not to be myself.
What is your definition of success?
I follow my definition of success: “Do what you love to do and feel the happiness.” What you do is not about money. Being successful is about being happy.
Was there a moment when you thought you could not make it?
Yes! In early 2019 I lost a very important member of my team of 4 people. This man was a specialist in food production and everything to do with food. Without him the team was not strong anymore – he was essential for the team. This was a hard blow for the young company at a time when I was pitching a lot and trying to convince investors to invest in our company.
What have you learned from all this?
I realized that it is really difficult to find the right person with the right attitude and skills. My advice is also to make expand your network and keep as many contacts as possible. Like contacts, you made 10 years ago that could be crucial in your case. In the end, I found a person I never thought would fit in with me, but he proved to be perfect. Keep your relationships alive. Form many networks.
How did you resolve the situation?
I was without the essential person on the team for three months! It was devastating. Then I realized that I had a large network and started looking for a new team member to come on board as soon as possible. I tried to contact as many people as possible to find out if there was a person who would be suitable for the job. The first thing they did was to check all the existing contacts they had, mainly through social media.
How do you motivate yourself?
I motivate myself. When I wake up and feel a little down, I start smiling to feel better. This makes me smile all day long. When I am demotivated, I think about my past achievements. I write my name in Google and read about myself.
What is your advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice is to follow both your heart and your mind. If you feel with your body that something is wrong, then just do not do it. Work on your emotional intelligence. And do not try to achieve everything on your own! Form a team.
Any last thoughts?
I hope that I can inspire more people and that they can join me in building a more sustainable world. That depends on us.